By Mo Allie
An all rounder in all ways imaginable – that’s Saait Magiet who was denied his rightful place on the international sporting arena by the cruel system of Apartheid.
As a cricketer he was equally effective as a very quick and dangerous opening bowler, as a batsman he could tear any attack apart irrespective of the situation he found himself in and as a fielder he ranked among the game’s finest.
As a rugby player he was equally good as eighth man, flank and, when the situation demanded, he could even operate effectively at scrum half or fly half.
As a rugby player he, on a few occasions, captained the City and Suburban board side in SA Cup matches under the banner of the old Saru and is regarded as arguably the best player not to win national colours.
No wonder the legendary Saru loose forward Edgar Siljeur was moved to comment thus when hearing about Magiet’s passing: “Saait was a great friend both on and off the field. He was surely the best and most versatile sportsman produced during the Sacos era.” High praise indeed coming from a man who himself was equally versatile as a rugby player and cricketer.
It was as a cricketer that Magiet won universal recognition as one of South Africa’s best during the Apartheid era.
The fact that he was handed his first class debut as a callow 19-year–old alongside established stars like elder brother Rushdi, Braima Isaacs, Neville Lakay, Viccie Moodie, Coetie Neethling, and Owen Williams, among others, showed how highly regarded and talented he was.
And it was in his second game, away to Eastern Province, that a young Magiet provided a sign of things to come scoring a typically swashbuckling 89 and joining Gertjie Williams to register a record eighth wicket stand of 133 after Lefty Adams’ side was struggling at 151/7.
He would go on to represent WP 67 times, 15 as captain, over a period of 20 years, as well as leading the SACB national team in 1987 and in 1991.
While his batting statistics of 2 650 runs (including three centuries and 15 half-centuries) scored at an average of 29.12 appear unflattering, the bouncy matting wickets and later green top and often uneven turf pitches coupled with slow outfields are major mitigating factors.
As an opening bowler Magiet was devastating often ripping through the opposition with a combination of pace and swing as manifested by his 171 first class wickets claimed at a meagre average of 12.99.
Had his generation, and those before them, had the opportunities (including coaching, training facilities, playing against top quality opposition) Magiet would no doubt have made his mark on the international scene just as players in the post-apartheid era like Vernon Philander, Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Paul Adams, and others have done.
Like many others who played under the Sacos banner, Magiet’s commitment to the cause of the anti-apartheid struggle saw him and brother Rushdi, turn down a lucrative offer to play for a South African Invitation XI against Greg Chappell’s sanctions-busting International Wanderers side in 1976.
The stance of the Magiets, particularly that of Saait, who was regarded as the jewel in non-racial cricket’s crown, was crucial, coming as it did at a time when a significant number of former Sacboc players had been lured into the trap of playing ‘normal sport’ when the apartheid society was still decidedly abnormal.
Things may also have turned out differently had he honoured a contract organized for him by another Sacboc legend, Cecil Abrahams, to play for Strathmore in Scotland. As it turned out Magiet returned the signed contract to the wrong address.
Abrahams, who had by then established himself in the Lancashire League, was moved to seek an opportunity for Magiet to fulfill his rich potential after observing the all rounder at close quarters during the season he spent coaching and playing for WP as a professional in 1975.
“It would be a great waste if a player with all his natural ability did not experience playing in England where his ability would show even more,” Abrahams wrote at the time.
As someone who was privileged to have watched and admired Saait Magiet in his prime, whether as a cricketer or rugby player, one can only but wonder what might have been for one of South African sport’s unfulfilled giants.
Unfortunately viewing Magiet’s beautifully crafted work of art was restricted to those who had the good fortune to meet him at the local market but it was denied the chance to be showcased in the galleries of the world.